New console, same result.
Last year, Sega Sports' World Series Baseball for the Xbox rocked my world. It was the most detailed, realistic, carefully crafted baseball game I'd ever seen. Sega knows a good thing when they have it, so this year's version is out for both the PS2 and the Xbox, and while each version is much like last year's, they're even more like each other, with few discernible differences. In fact, the only difference is in the framerate, with the Xbox version running a tad more smoothly than its PS2 counterpart. Still, the PS2 continues to rock.
The modes include everything you'd expect, but deliver much more. There're Exhibition, Season, Franchise, Homerun Derby, Big League Challenge (a variation of the Homerun Derby) and the Sega Sports Challenge, which pits you against a tough CPU opponent and then rates your performance. You're also given a code that you can enter at the Sega Sports website to see how you stack up against other players.
The details and options in WSB 2K3 are amazing. For any given game, you can select a team's current, 80's, 70's or classic uniforms. You can control several different aspects of the CPU's game from within the game. You can save from within games, assuming you're playing a Season.
New to this year's game are the abilities to dive, jump and climb walls to try stealing back a homerun, all at the tap of a context-sensitive R1 button. You can also queue runners to steal as soon as a pitcher begins his windup.
World Series 2K3 lacks a Spring Training mode, which would have added a nice layer of depth to the Season and Franchise...although adding more depth to the Franchise seems unlikely. The Franchise Mode has more options and possibilities than my mind can comprehend, or, honestly, care about. The game tracks about 80 player stats and you can hire and fire management throughout a season. Players develop in several different ways, all of which depend on the management, so if you somehow notice that an element of your game isn't going as it should, the first place to start kicking ass is in the office.
Players can also get fatigued and require time off. Players that don't get such time off are more likely to be injured and will play at a less than optimum level. Also, relief pitchers now need to be warmed up in the bullpen before being sent into the game.
Another new aspect to micro-manage is player loyalty. If your organization wins a lot, pays well and gives your players the time off they need, then they'll love you. On the other hand, if you lose a lot, pay poorly (winning and money are closely related) and don't give your players the rest they need, they'll leave you for a better offer. Such details are numerous and seem overwhelming, but the fact that they're all inter-related makes each important in terms of the others, and essentially creates a sense of cause and effect. It all adds up to an amateur baseball GM's dream.
Pitching is easy thanks to an intuitive system, a display that shows the batter's hot-and cold zones and previous pitch histories. This system is identical to last year's game and, even if it hasn't necessarily improved, still works really well.
Batting is also largely the same, with the exception of the new drag-bunt and the ability to queue steals. The default mode has a button for Normal and Power swings, although this can be changed in favor of charging up a swing while the pitcher is in his wind-up. Batters have batting icons, the sizes of which depend on the skill of the batter. Barry Bonds, for example, has a huge icon, while Randy Johnson's is quite small. Heh.
The only thing that bothers me is that the game expects you to move the batting cursor to intercept the ball. Perhaps if the pitches seemed to move slower for skilled batters and faster for weaker ones, there might be time to move the cursor (the movement of which is not precise in the first place), but as the game goes now, I barely have enough time to decide whether or not the ball will come close to where my cursor is and whether or not I should swing. It just seems a little tough.
Having said that, carefully placing my cursor and watching each pitch is fun enough. The hot and cold zones of each batter create interesting strategic dynamics, especially since I, at least, am too slow to move the cursor mid-pitch. The pitch-histories add to the strategy and help you predict where the next pitch will land.
All of this leads to a genuinely involving and intense pitcher/batter duel, and when you do manage a base hit or homerun, it's the result of thought and strategy as much as quick twitch skills.
New to fielding is the ability to jump, dive or wall-climb depending on the situation at the press of the R1 button. While these abilities are hardly groundbreaking, the fact that they're all relegated to one context-sensitive button makes things much easier.
However, camera issues mar the fielding a bit. The camera becomes an issue when there's a big hit and none of your players are on-screen. As a result, you have no idea which player you're controlling, and thus no idea which way to run. The computer has hit several triples off me as a result of this. Otherwise, fielding is, as is the case with every baseball game ever, not much fun.
As far as looks go, World Series Baseball 2K3 could kill. Even though the framerate can get a little choppy, the players look ridiculously good. The textures are awesome, the stadiums are colorful, the camera angles and shots are well chosen, the animations all look good and the players never exhibit that dreadful, generic ready position to be found in games of lesser quality such as Sony's MLB 2004.
World Series 2K3's audio is just as polished with fine sound effects, lively commentary from Rex Hudler and Ted Robinson, good crowd noises and generally convincing stadium noise.
Unfortunately, World Series 2K3 isn't playable online even though other Sega Sports titles are. I'm not sure why they opted against this (I presume it was a technical issue), but it's too bad.
If you're the type who goes for intricate Franchise modes, then you'll probably dig WSB 2K3. The same goes if you like astounding graphics and good gameplay dynamics. Not to say the others are bad, but, yeah, this one's pretty good.